When you discover you are pregnant for the first time you suddenly begin to hear gross stories from your friends and relatives about everything that will happen during pregnancy and labor. Some of the terms may sound weird, such as The Mucus Plug. But what is the mucus plug and what does it mean when you "lose it"?
In the simplest of definitions, the mucus plug is a build up of thick, gelatinous mucus that corks the cervix and acts as a barrier, protecting the baby and the uterus from infection throughout the pregnancy.
The mucus plug is held in place by pressure and as labor approaches and the cervix begins to relax, get softer and thin out in preparation for birth, the plug dislodges and will fall out. You will usually notice it when you go to the bathroom.
Losing your mucus plug is not usually painful or uncomfortable but in some cases can be accompanied by some significant cramps that can be uncomfortable and mimic the pattern of labor. It's not uncommon for you to think you are in early labor but these cramps will eventually fade away. The plug can either come in one large piece, often totaling about an ounce of slimy goo. Or it can come out in stringy bits over the course of a few hours to a few days. It is opaque white or yellowish in color and can often be tinged with blood. The presence of blood is normal and occurs when blood vessels break as the cervix is thinning and opening.
Something for first time birthing parents to remember is if you notice your mucus plug has fallen out, your labor is still often days to a week or more away. When you are birthing for the first time your body takes things slowly and step by step. It's like the body is reading the instruction manual for the first time and losing the mucus plug is just one step in many that will need to happen before and during labor. If this is not your first birth, the body remembers what to do and losing the mucus plug often means that labor is a few hours to a day away.
One final thing to remember is that when the plug falls out there may be a small trickle of fluid that follows it. This can often be mistaken for the waters breaking. If the trickle of fluid is just a one-time occurrence then it is just the normal build-up of fluid that sits behind the mucus plug. If the trickle continues over the course of an hour or more then you may very well have broken your waters and should contact your hospital or midwife for further instructions.
Ultimately, losing your mucus plug does not mean you should head to the hospital. However, if you are concerned about the amount of blood you are seeing or have any questions you should contact your care provider.
Labor, for the most part, is a mixture of intense cramps, leaking fluids, bloody show and a roller coaster of emotions, all culminating in the birth of a wet, gooey baby. It's not pretty and its hard work, but remember that everything you are going through serves an amazing purpose. And it all starts with a plug of mucus.